Thursday, 28 November 2013

Keeping up your energy

Having good reserves of energy is one of the most important characteristics of a successful leader. But people have varying natural levels of energy and you need to pay attention to topping up your physical and mental energy levels regularly.

Everyone gains their energy in different ways. I find cooking and gardening both relaxing and creative. Importantly both are often solitary and do not require conversation. I tend to find after weeks where I am 'on' all the time and meetings and calls fill all day, my own company doing something that is both creative and useful very helpful and restorative.

I also find being outside and seeking out wonderful views and vistas fills my energy banks. Fresh air is definitely good for you - our brains use twenty per cent of our oxygen so the more fresh air you can breathe the better.

I am not one of nature's athletes and find the gym and jogging very dull. This meant I just didn't do enough exercise which didn't worry me until I was diagnosed with high blood pressure. Which was a wake up call. In the past few years I have taken up yoga and pilates which work for me. The yoga teaches you how to meditate and breathe deeply which are in themselves great stress relievers and the pilates is good to combat all that sitting down.

My latest idea is taking up dancing. Every winter I suffer from Strictly envy - watching the duffer celebrities turn themselves into elegant quick-stepping sylphs I am always sure that a few classes would see me slimmer fitter and generally happier.  This time I have actually started a class. Let's hope I make it past Christmas.

Brownies - my secret weapon

Most working women struggle with feeling guilty about not being their children's primary carer. I know I identified completely with Alison Pearson's character Kate Reddy in "I don't know how she does it" who bought mince pies and bashed them about with a rolling pin to look homemade for her child to take into school. Most of us secretly want to be able to spend afternoon's in the kitchen whipping up home baked treats for our children when they come back from school. The reality is often very different - I tried cooking with both my children when they were small and chaos ensued.

I found a few shortcuts really helped. Most weeks I made a batch of something - biscuits, fairy cakes or muffins to go in the children's lunch boxes. Not only did they feel I was 'present' in their day - their friends loved eating them too which made my children feel good. You can freeze most of these kinds of snacks too so you could make a big batch once a a month. The trick is to find an easy recipe that you can do quickly. I used to do it on Sunday evenings while the children were getting their things together for school with the Antiques Roadshow in the background. Brownies were always most in demand and here's my favourite recipe from The Little Red Barn Baking Book by Adriana Rabinovich - it is quick and easy and always works.


125g plain flour
1/2tsp salt
110g good quality plain chocolate (min 70 per cent cocoa solids)
110g unsalted butter
150g dark soft brown sugar
150g caster sugar
2 eggs
50g chopped nuts (walnuts or pecans)

Pre-heat the oven to 170 degrees C/Gas 3. Butter and flour a 23cm square cake pan.

Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl. Melt the chocolate with the butter in a double boiler or a bowl set over a pan of hot water (you can use a microwave but keep an eye on it). Remove from the heat, add the brown and caster sugars and leave to dissolve slightly, then stir to combine. Add the eggs, one by one, beating after each addition. Add the nuts and stir. The mixture should be very glossy. Gently fold in the flour. Don't over mix.

Spread the mixture in the prepared pan to form an even layer. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until just set in the middle. A wooden skewer inserted should come out with a few moist crumbs on it. Don't over bake. leave to cool in the pan for 30 minutes before cutting into squares and serving.

Makes 16-20 brownies.

The other tip I would pass on is doing Sunday lunch. Sometimes it was the only time in the week I had the time to cook a proper family meal from scratch and it has the benefit of being very easy to do for lots of people so it can double up as your weekly entertainment - family, friends or quite often my children's friends. People of all ages seem to love it and it is no more work to cook for eight or ten than four if you do a roast lunch and the dishwasher can take the strain afterwards. Having the family and our friends around me made me feel like a 'normal' person at least once in the week and I found it did me as much good as anyone.

Getting Organized with Mind Maps

It is the CEO's job to simplify complexity and explain their vision to others so that everyone knows their role in delivering goals.  I have explored various tools to help me to do this better.

I have done quite a bit of work over the past few years with management consultants and one of them in particular drilled regularly that "structure sets you free".  I was dubious at first as I have never seen myself as a left brainer.  Instead my adult life has been punctuated by being a last minute junkie - pulling all nighters to write student essays to late night powerpoint sessions before pitches - old habits die hard.

He patiently taught me how to take big picture ideas and break them into their constituent parts so that you can easily organise and implement.  Consultants call this approach MECE (Mutually Exclusive, Collectively Exhaustive).  This has made a huge difference to my efficiency and also that of those who work with you.  One way to think about this is the well-worn phrase "You can't can't eat an elephant but you can eat an elephant sandwich". It is one of the most useful ideas to bear in mind if you want to maxmise work life balance and still be a high achiever.

Taking this into my daily life I have found mind maps invaluable. I started with a wonderful book called "mind mapping in a week" written by the king of mind mapping Tony Buzan and a pack of coloured pens. This got me rather odd looks from people but captured my imagination. Then I discovered mind mapping software and I was away.

Now I have an Ipad and use Mind Jet - their Ipad app is my standby. It is completely intuitive, and can be used across multiple platforms. I can't recommend it highly enough. If you like variety I have also used Visual Mind which is a good version for teams to use.  I have complete confidence that I can create anything on a page from the most complicated three year business plan to a shopping list.

I think mind mapping is paritcularly suited to women. It is accepted that women multi-task better than men - recently tested interestingly and proved to be true.  Multi-tasking  involves linking sub tasks together to get a job done in the shortest time possible which is the idea behind mind-mapping.   This makes mind-mapping very natural and easy - almost relaxing. There is something extremely satisfying about making sure you've captured each step you need to achieve a major goal - rather like the satisfaction you can get from a really clean pile of washing and ironing.